Wrapping a baby from the neck down in a light and breathable cloth is called swaddling. It helps keep the baby calm and warm and makes them feel secure. However, as the baby grows older, they should transition out of a swaddle for their comfort and safety.
A baby may grow used to swaddling and might find it difficult to sleep without it. Parents can gradually transition the baby out of a swaddle to keep things comfortable for the little one. Read on to learn more about when to stop swaddling babies, ways to transition out of a swaddle, and points to consider during the transition.
When To Stop Swaddling A Baby?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, parents should stop swaddling once their baby begins to roll over (1). A baby who can roll could roll over to their tummy in the swaddled position. The wrapped hands and swaddled body could make it difficult for the little one to adjust their position, thus increasing the risk of suffocation (2).
Babies often begin to roll from the age of four months, although some babies might do it earlier or later (3). If you observe your baby attempting to roll over, stop swaddling them. You may begin transitioning the baby out of a swaddle from the age of two or three months. It will help them become used to sleeping without a swaddle by the time they learn to roll over.
Signs A Baby Has Outgrown A Swaddle
If the baby displays the following signs, then it usually indicates that it is time to transition out of a swaddle.
- Increased activity with lots of hand movements
- Removes the swaddled cloth due to increased mobility
- Feels uncomfortable in a swaddled position due to restrained legs and hands
- Disturbed sleep and awakens from sleep despite being swaddled
- Rolls over from back to tummy and vice-versa
How To Transition Out Of A Swaddle?
Parents may try any of the following methods to transition their baby out of the swaddle.
- Cold turkey: In this technique, you stop swaddling the baby entirely. Since it is a sudden change, babies may react differently. Observe the baby for a few nights as they may take time to adjust. This technique works well for babies who can self-soothe. Parents should be ready for the baby’s disturbed sleep and crying initially. This method is best for babies who have begun to roll over.
- Partial night swaddling: Lay the baby to sleep without swaddling. If the baby wakes up at night due to discomfort, parents can then swaddle them. In this method, the baby is taught to sleep without swaddling for the longest period of the night. Ideally, the baby should sleep half or one-third of the night without swaddling. You can adjust the time spent swaddled based on the baby’s discomfort and the number of times they wake up at night.
- Swaddle with one arm in and one arm out: This technique is gradual and is suited for babies who are on the verge of learning to roll over. It involves wrapping one arm inside the swaddle and allowing the other one to be free. This position gives the baby comfort of the swaddle and also allows movement of a limb. You may alternate the hands for a couple of nights and eventually remove the swaddle.
- Swaddle arms free: You swaddle the baby with both their arms out. It gives the baby the comfort of a swaddle while keeping both their hands free. Parents may use a regular swaddle cloth or opt for one that is designed to allow movement of arms.
- Wearable blanket or sleeping suit: A wearable blanket or sleeping suit can provide the baby the feeling of a swaddle while keeping their hands and legs free. Some wearable blankets are quilted for added comfort and warmth. You can choose between a blanket and suit based on your baby’s comfort. This method of transitioning is best suited for younger babies.
Where Should The Baby Sleep After You Stop Swaddling?
The baby should always sleep in a crib or bassinet for naps and nighttime sleep, irrespective of whether they are being swaddled or not (4). According to the CDC, parents should observe the following measures for the baby’s safe sleep (5).
- Always place the baby on their back for naps and nighttime sleep. Sleeping on the back reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
- The sleep surface within the crib or bassinet should be firm. Choose a firm mattress covered with a fitted sheet. The mattress should snugly fit within a crib without any gaps between the mattress and the crib’s guardrails.
- Never place loose blankets, soft toys, and other items in the baby’s sleep area to prevent the risk of suffocation.
- Never place the baby to sleep in an armchair or couch. Do not leave the baby unaccompanied if they fall asleep in a stroller or car seat. If possible, move them to a crib or bassinet immediately.
- Parents should prefer room-sharing with their baby up to the age of 12 months. Place the baby’s crib close to your bed. Never bed-share with the baby since it may increase the risk of injuries in babies.
Tips For Transitioning Out Of Swaddle
These tips may make it easier for parents to teach transitioning from a swaddle to their babies.
- You may stop swaddling for nighttime naps and continue swaddling for daytime naps. It could give the baby time to adjust to sleeping without a swaddle.
- Place the baby in the crib right when they begin to feel drowsy. It could make the baby fall asleep faster without the need for swaddling.
- Establish a soothing bedtime routine so that the baby is relaxed enough to sleep without a swaddle. For instance, you could give the baby a warm bath and play relaxing music before bedtime.
- Place the baby for naps and nighttime sleep at the same time each day. It helps set a sleep routine.
- You can dress the baby in an onesie, which could provide a sense of warmth and comfort as a swaddle.
- Keep the baby’s sleep area quiet. Maintain a comfortable temperature in the baby’s room.
- Room-sharing could make it easier to soothe the baby in the absence of a swaddle. You could also place a night lamp in the baby’s room to help them soothe back to sleep. You may also offer the baby a pacifier to self-soothe.
Will Your Baby Sleep Worse Without A Swaddle?
The baby would sleep comfortably once they grow used to sleeping without a swaddle. Parents may observe fussiness during the transition phase. However, persevering efforts will gradually make the baby used to the absence of a swaddle.
Swaddling is an effective sleeping strategy for newborns but should be phased out once the baby is two to three months old. Many babies tend to resist swaddling once they develop active movements of limbs and the ability to roll over. Despite parents’ concerns, the lack of swaddling does not cause any discomfort, and the baby will learn to sleep soundly without being swaddled.